CXLV – How Does a Nation Lose Its Soul?

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What
is morally wrong can never be advantageous,
even
when it enables you to make some
gain that you believe to be to your
advantage. The mere act of believing
that some wrongful course of action
constitutes an advantage is pernicious.

~ Cicero

The
received wisdom informs us that the
American public has tired of George
Bush and his use of lies and other
deceptions to fashion a war-crazed
police-state. According to this view,
voters will go to the polls this November
and exchange a sufficient number of
Republican scoundrels for Democratic
ones to deprive Bush of a GOP-controlled
Congress. Then, we are further led
to believe, the sociopathic madness
that has metastasized from inside
the u201Cbeltwayu201D will have come to an
end, and — like members of any lynch
mob who later reflect on their deed
— most Americans will rediscover their
lost sense of sanity and decency.

I
accept none of this foolish thinking.
I see no evidence that any greater
number of Americans are critical of
Mr. Bush's appetites for tyranny or
unprovoked wars than existed at the
time of his Afghan/Iraqi attacks.
This is not to suggest that many Americans
are pleased with Mr. Bush's performance.
Public opinion polls reflect a growing
dissatisfaction with his handling
of the presidency. But their displeasure
does not rise to the level of a moral
condemnation of his actions.

It's
not that Mr. Bush's performance has
been one long string of lies and deceptions
that bothers many Americans. Politics
is dependent upon lies, fraudulent
promises, and misrepresentations.
Americans know this and insist upon
their fantasies and delusions being
catered to with a faithful adherence
to accepted rhyme and meter. Those
who insist upon the truth are treated
as outcasts: u201Cextremists,u201D u201Ccynics,u201D
u201Cwackos,u201D or u201Cparanoid conspiracy
theorists,u201D are the usual epithets
directed against persons who would
bring discredit to the game by truth-telling.

While
most Americans demand that their politicians
be liars and pretenders, they want
the performance to be carried off
with sophistication and elegance.
Mr. Bush's lies have been too transparent.
He is like a clumsy magician who inadvertently
lets the egg drop from his sleeve
just as he is about to remove it from
behind a subject's ear. Americans
prefer being seduced by such suave,
smooth-talking types as Bill Clinton
or the Kennedys. Bush comes across
as a crude fraternity boy seeking
a fast conquest. His deviation from
the accepted standards of refined
dishonesty are so apparent as to have
made a success of Jon Stewart's The
Daily Show.

While
Clinton and the Kennedys are Democrats,
the Republicans are expected to have
their practitioners of the subtle
arts of mendacity. Men like Henry
Kissinger — who can both promote wars
and win the Nobel Peace Prize! — provide
a model to which conservatives can
repair. Was it not Kissinger who said
that u201Cpower is the ultimate aphrodisiacu201D?
Is this the reason Kissinger has been
brought into the White House to advise
President Bush?

A
number of critics have asked why the
Democratic politicians have been so
tame regarding the Bush administration's
outrageous policies. Why haven't they
taken a strong stand against Mr. Bush's
unprovoked wars, his phony u201Cwar on
terrorism,u201D his snowballing police
state, and his plans to add Iran to
his laundry list of war targets? The
answer to this question is quite evident,
for two reasons: (1) the Democrats
are as much a part of the system that
depends upon lies, deceit, and violence
as are the Republicans, and do not
want discredit to be brought upon
the game they imagine themselves to
be controlling one day soon. (2) The
Democrats understand the mindset of
most Americans, and recognize that
their political ambitions would be
dealt a fatal blow should they be
perceived as embracing moral principles.

Most
Americans have an aversion to reality,
and are inclined to settle for ersatz
versions of it in so-called u201Creality
televisionu201D programs that can be turned
off whenever troublesome questions
arise. The mainstream media continue
to divert attention away from any
topic that would lay a burden upon
the minds of men and women who prefer
live coverage of car chases, or stories
about missing children or a teenager
in Aruba. With politicians and government
officials providing the example, truth-telling
has become just one of numerous strategies
for pursuing one's advantage; a lie
is as good as the truth if it serves
one's ends and others will believe
it.

What
has brought so much of modern society
to such a low course? Why do so many
of us not only accept being lied to
— particularly about matters that
lead to the deaths and mutilations
of hundreds of thousands of innocent
people — but are unwilling to voice
any moral objection to such practices?
Why were so many people prepared to
run Bill Clinton out of the White
House for lying about his sexual trysts,
but now embrace a president who tells
one lie after another in order to
carry out what appears to be his dominant
purpose: the conduct of war against
as many defenseless people as possible?
Why do so many of us feign moral indignation
over the sexual peccadilloes of politicians,
while decorating our homes and cars
with flags in support of mass-murder?

The
answers to such questions begin in
the practice of identifying ourselves
through various institutional abstractions,
the nation-state being the most prominent
and troublesome. I have written extensively
on this topic, and will not repeat
the details of it here. Suffice it
to say that we have learned to regard
the very essence of our being as indistinguishable
from such abstractions. To most of
us, being an u201CAmericanu201D is much more
than a matter of physical geography;
it provides us with what Frederick
Perls' termed our u201Cego boundaries,u201D
the sense of who we are. The same
processes explain the weltanschauung
of Germans, Chinese, Israelis,
Swedes, Palestinians, et al., as well
as the u201Cego boundaryu201D identities defined
by one's race, religion, gender, or
other collective criteria.

And
herein lies the problem. My question,
u201Chow does a nation lose its soul?u201D,
is intentionally misleading. A nation
is but an abstraction and has no more
u201Csoulu201D than does a crowd of subway
passengers. Only individuals
enjoy a spiritual essence. A nation-state
is but a tool that has proven useful
to men and women who seek to promote
their interests by inducing others
to submit their lives and other resources
to their management and control. To
accomplish such ends, it is first
necessary for the politically ambitious
to herd individuals into a collective
mindset, a process that requires us
to transform our inner, individualized
sense of being into an externalized
one. We learn to twist the moral,
ethical, emotional, and spiritual
sense that inheres within each of
us, into the collective virtues of
conformity, obedience, resignation,
and intolerance for members of other
u201Cego boundaryu201D collectives. In such
ways does the soul of an individual
become corrupted and homogenized into
a form of potential energy to be used
for collective purposes.

Carl
Jung and others have devoted much
effort to helping us understand the
u201Ccollective unconsciousu201D that we share
with our fellow humans. Each of us
has a u201Cdark sideu201D consisting of unconscious
forces we prefer not to share: capacities
for dishonesty, violence, anger, irresponsibility,
bigotry, or any of numerous other
negative qualities. We may not act
in response to such impulses, but
we fear that, sufficiently motivated,
we might do so.

It
is such u201Cdark sideu201D energies that
the state exploits in fostering and
reinforcing our sense of collective
identity. Responsive to fears and
weakness, our u201Cdark sideu201D is easily
mobilized and made available for the
state's destructive purposes. Evidence
for this is found in the response
of most Americans to the events of
9/11, whose spectral fears are bolstered
by daily reminders of the dangers
we face from alleged u201Cterroristsu201D
plotting to attack our neighborhood
grocery store, a petting zoo, or people
boarding airliners with toothpaste.
For those challenged by the complexities
of simple language, a color chart
is made available, whose hues can
be manipulated to elicit the desired
fear response.

When
we become collectivized beings, the
moral perspective that might otherwise
arise from our individualized judgments,
gets transformed into a kind of mechanistic
u201Cgroup-think,u201D without any basis for
more introspective thought. u201CLegalityu201D
takes the place of u201Cmoralityu201D; the
rules of u201Cpolitical correctnessu201D substitute
for intellectual acuity; while the
Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the
world price for oil become the standards
for measuring political propriety.

Such
collectivized thinking has provided
George Bush with the safety net that
does not translate his lies and butcherous
dispositions into a widespread moral
resentment. Most criticisms of his
policies have arisen not out of any
fundamental philosophic principles,
but — at least recently — only from
the pursuit of partisan political
advantage. At best, his disapproval
ratings derive generally from perceived
defects in style, not substance.
His clumsiness and arrogance run counter
to the expectations people have come
to expect from occupants of the White
House; to be president, one must act
presidential, not like a grade-schooler
in a cowboy suit. The office must
not be besmirched by a lack of grace.

Most
people do not comprehend the dissimilarity
of public and political reaction to
Bill Clinton's and George Bush's behavior.
Clinton's offense was not that he
had lied about illicit sex, but that
he had chosen to engage in it in the
u201Coval office,u201D thus desecrating the
holy temple of the statist religion.
Had he confined his trysting to local
motels, his acts would have brought
about no more criticism than was visited
upon FDR or JFK for their liaisons.

To
inject moral or philosophic considerations
into the political process totally
misconceives of the basic nature of
the state. To confront a collectivized
mind with normative principles is
as much a waste of time as trying
to educate a person in differential
calculus whose understanding of mathematics
has been confined to using an abacus;
or to explain the communicative powers
of the Internet to a medieval man
accustomed to sending fire signals
from towers.

Mr.
Bush, his Machiavellian supporters,
and the Democrats understand this
essential fact of politics quite well.
If the Republicans suffer at the polls
this November, it will not be due
to any moral hostility to the wholesale
lying or the slaughter of innocents
directed from the White House, but
only from a substantial deviation
from the political forms, practices,
and litanies upon which collective
minds insist.

We
begin to lose our souls when we allow
ourselves to become part of a collective,
a truth the statists understand as
providing the foundation for their
vicious systems. If individuals do
not maintain their constant awareness,
the u201Cdark sideu201D is very easy to mobilize
into a collective mass of destructive
energy. Crowds and mobs are made up
of people who allow their judgment
and responsibility to be taken over
by such collective forces that speak
in one simple, uncomplicated voice.

By
contrast, the moral dimensions of
our being — whose intuitive and emotional
nature are the language of the soul
— do not organize well. Though we
may speak with one another of such
matters, their resolution ultimately
comes down to a sense that emerges
wholly within each of us. This is
why, historically, collective forces
of state power have prevailed over
mankind. As we have discovered from
the failures of constitutional limitations
on government, there is no way of
preventing the state from doing whatever
its leaders choose to do, once millions
of people have been herded into a
collective force obedient to the will
of their masters.

A
nation — any nation — does not lose
its u201Csoulu201D for, being an abstraction,
it has none to lose. Only individuals
can suffer such a loss, which they
do whenever they allow their sense
of being to get submerged in any collective.

But
such dynamics also indicate the way
out of our collective madness, namely,
to go back in our thinking to our
childhood, and become aware of how
we were taught to stand in straight
lines, to recite pledges of allegiance,
and to march to other people's music.
In such reflective ways, we may rediscover
our individuality by withdrawing our
energies from the collective mindset;
we may learn to have a healthy skepticism
about the nature of organizations.
In so doing, we may end our contributions
to world madness.

Men
and women devoted to their collectivized
identities will never bring about
such change. Neither will those of
us who – enmeshed in the 51%
political mentality in which he have
been trained — believe that meaningful
change depends upon altering the thinking
of others. But as chaos theory informs
us, the flapping of the wings of a
butterfly over the Andes will affect
the weather in Tibet. Carl Jung expressed
the matter most poignantly: u201Cthe salvation
of the world consists in the salvation
of the individual soul.u201D Think of
the creative powers that might be
unleashed from just two of us — you
and me — intent on rediscovering our
souls.

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